Sen. Harkin Pressures NCCAM to “Validate Alternative Approaches”

One of the few saving graces of being a Democrat is that we’re typically not anti-science. And then there’s Democratic Senator Harkin (who is very good on other issues). Along with Republican Senator Bill Frist, Harkin was the driving force behind the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). However, Harkin doesn’t like what NCCAM has found:

Sen. Tom Harkin, the proud father of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that NCCAM had disappointed him by disproving too many alternative therapies.
“One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short,” Harkin said.
The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”
Skeptics have complained all along that Harkin and his allies founded this office to promote alternative therapies at public expense, not to test them scientifically. Harkin’s statement at the hearing explicitly confirms that hypothesis….
Over a decade later, Harkin’s disappointed that the NCCAM’s research is failing to confirm his biases.
Harkin doesn’t seem to realize that by publicly pressuring an ostensibly independent research center to produce positive results, he’s undermining the credibility of the center he worked so hard to create. If even if NCCAM does come up with positive results, Harkin’s giving the scientific community an excuse to discount that research as tainted.

What someone needs to point out to Harkin (although I doubt it would take) is that it’s unethical and immoral to treat disease with things that don’t work, particularly if there are options that do work. It’s not enough to show that there’s no ill effect of a treatment since ersatz treatments will crowd out effective ones.
Besides, as Lindsay notes, pressuring scientists will backfire. Just ask Republicans.
Lindsay has more.

This entry was posted in Democrats, The War on Science. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Sen. Harkin Pressures NCCAM to “Validate Alternative Approaches”

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    Gee, Senator, if that was what you wanted we could have saved a billion or so. Just have Congress pass a bill declaring that homeopathy and reike (etc.) are safe, effective, and better than actual, like, medical treatment. Maybe while you’re at it you could change the value of pi, too.

  2. Chris Clarke says:

    They’re not disproving the alternative therapies. They’re providing PROOF of the alternative therapies that’s merely been prepared at homeopathic concentrations in a truth diluent.

  3. CC says:

    As to the value of pi, you laugh but there is a (failed) bill from 1897 that tried to dictate that pi=3.

  4. needles says:

    Contrary to most posters’ assertions, science is not objective truth; it is a belief system. If one judges or tests, take your pick, one paradigm with the tools of a different paradigm, it will always lead to skewed results. Applying Western scientific trials to alternative healing, many originating in vastly different cultures, is analogous to using electrical diagnostic tools to assess your plumbing system. Another case of apples and oranges. But the science establishment insists on squeezing everything through the narrow funnel of the double-blind crossover test.
    Adverse reactions from Western pharmaceuticals are killing 150,000 Americans yearly. There are over 60,000 potentially carcinogenic chemicals in the ecosystem: how’s that for unethical and immoral, Mike?

  5. Chris Clarke says:

    Applying Western scientific trials to alternative healing, many originating in vastly different cultures, is analogous to using electrical diagnostic tools to assess your plumbing system.

    Aaaaaand the alt-med types’ condescending racism rears its head. Because we all know the wogs don’t do science, and thus insisting on reproducible results is inherently White and Male and Western. Hunter-gatherer types didn’t experiment on berries’ edibility through trial and error, there are no Chinese science labs, and “algebra” isn’t a loan word from Arabic.
    Condescending racism, pure and simple.

  6. Pareidolius says:

    Needles, take it from a former magical-thinker, this crap doesn’t work. I was one major mediphobe, and I really wanted it to work, but it never really did. I gather you’re an acupuncturist. I’ve had acupuncture, I can only report that it did nothing for me. Probably because I was skeptical about it working. I used to take homeopathic “remedies”. Useless, or a placebo at best. I’ve learned that all they actually contain is sugar. I learned about the insane dilutions, that they practically contain less than nothing at those dilutions. And don’t try to tell me about the water’s “memory”. If that was the case, water would probably kill us instantly when it remembered all the contaminants it’s been exposed to over the eons. Drugs can kill people, you bet they can, but they also prevent crippling pain and save millions of lives each year. Pharmaceuticals aren’t perfect, but their effects can be measured and tested. Acupuncture and homeopathic remedies fail in double blind tests every time with success rates no better than placebo. As for the idea that people in other cultures aren’t governed by the same laws of physics that we western types are, well that’s just plain wrong. Racist and wrong.

  7. RBH says:

    needles wrote

    Contrary to most posters’ assertions, science is not objective truth; it is a belief system.

    Keep repeating that to yourself the next time you get on an airplane.

  8. Troublesome Frog says:

    Applying Western scientific trials to alternative healing, many originating in vastly different cultures, is analogous to using electrical diagnostic tools to assess your plumbing system.

    What part of “give the treatment to some people and compare the results to people who don’t get the treatment” is inappropriate for assessing “non-Western” medical treatments? The comparison part?

  9. D. C. Sessions says:

    As to the value of pi, you laugh but there is a (failed) bill from 1897 that tried to dictate that pi=3.

    I’m glad someone got the reference.

  10. Applying Western scientific trials to alternative healing, many originating in vastly different cultures, is analogous to using electrical diagnostic tools to assess your plumbing system.
    This why bloodletting and cupping are examples of how wrong western patriarchal medicine can be. Of course when traditional Chinese medicine does cupping or blood letting it needs to be accepted. Cause you know patriarchal tradition should be trusted when it comes from the east.

  11. abb3w says:

    needles:

    Contrary to most posters’ assertions, science is not objective truth; it is a belief system. If one judges or tests, take your pick, one paradigm with the tools of a different paradigm, it will always lead to skewed results.

    Actually, science at the heart is inherently a methodology for choosing between descriptions, whether at the paradigm level or more basic.
    Science refers to the process of gathering evidence, forming conjectures about the evidence, developing a formal hypothesis which indicates how the current evidence may be described under the conjecture, competitive testing of all candidate hypotheses under a formal criterion for probable correctness, plus the body of hypotheses testing best thereby and which thereafter are referred to as “Theories”.
    In the most formal sense, the criterion used for this is a more exacting expression of Occam’s Razor, which has been proven in the absolute mathematical sense in the paper “Minimum Description Length Induction, Bayesianism and Kolmogorov Complexity”, by Vitanyi and Li (doi:10.1109/18.825807). This shows that the most “concise” hypothesis (a function of both the bit size of the conjecture of how the data should be described, and how many bits are needed to convey all properties of the data thereby) is the one most likely to correctly describe the character of future data. Science thus becomes dependent (due to this paper) on the philosophical assumptions that propositional logic is valid for formal inference, that the Zermelo-Fraenkel Axioms of set theory (which serve as the modern foundation for all mathematics) are self-consistent (though they need not be complete), and that Reality is relatable to Evidence with at most Recursively Enumerable formal complexity — loosely: “there is a pattern with the potential to be recognized”.
    Everything else in science is up for grabs… but your paradigm has to give you a “better” hypothesis to make that grab sucessfully. Or, of course, you can refute one of these underlying precepts, and be dismissed by the bulk of the world of philosophy as a loon.
    The reason for the double-blind crossover is because it helps distinguish from placebo effects. However, there are other ways… as long as you are certain that you do verify the results are more significant than placebo. Because, y’know, we already can make overpriced colored sugar pills; they’re usually sold under the brand name “Tic-Tac”.

  12. SLC says:

    Re Bill Frist
    I was not aware that former Senator Frist was one of the sponsors of the NCCAM. Unlike Harkin, this man was a physician and had a world class reputation as a heart surgeon and one would think he should have known better. But, as the case of Dr. Egnor shows, surgeons are among the least scientifically trained of all medical professionals (I seem to recall Dr. ORAC making that statement). Of course, given his moronic intervention in the Schiavo case, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.
    Re needles
    From Mr. needles, we see the thinking of the postmodernists who claim that all ideas are relative. I have a suggestion for Mr. needles. If he gets a severe pain in his left lower abdomen, don’t depend on Eastern medicine to cure his probable appendicitis.

  13. Bill says:

    One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches.

    Before you begin you must not know the answer. — Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, p. 103

    The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”

    Uh…gee…they’re doing science instead of advocacy.

Comments are closed.